Why Did Śākyamuni Buddha Thrice Exhort Us To Aspire For Birth In The Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss
Our fundamental teacher already in,
the Amitābha Sūtra within,
thrice exhorted to give rise to Aspiration,
for birth in the Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss.
Verses On Triple Exhortations (Part 1)
Although being one of the most regularly chanted Buddhist sūtras in the world, and despite it not being very long, it might not be noticed that Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) mentioned the phrase ‘should vow’ (应当发愿) thrice in the Amitā[bha] Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, for birth in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土). While giving a teaching once in a scripture is considered normal, to say it twice is for emphasis, and to say it thrice is surely for confirmation of its importance. Thus, let us take a closer look at the three sections in sequence, during which the Buddha uttered his triple exhortations, so as to truly heed them, to not let down the Buddha’s painstaking efforts. (Before encouraging birth in the Pure Land, the Buddha had already listed about 18 other benefits of reaching it, as can be seen in the first of the ‘Related Teachings‘ below. They are all good reasons for aspiring to reach Pure Land too.)
 Sūtra: ‘In the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, those sentient beings born, are all Avaivartikas. Among them, many are in the Position Of One Life To Replacement, with their number extremely great, that cannot by counting their number be known of, and only can with immeasurable and boundless asaṃkhyeya kalpas be said… Those sentient beings who hear this, should vow, vowing to be born in that land. Why is that so? To attain being with all such superior good persons, together meeting in one place.’ (极乐国土，众生生者，皆是阿鞞跋致。其中多有一生补处，其数甚多，非是算数所能知之，但可以无量无边阿僧祇说。… 众生闻者，应当发愿，愿生彼国。所以者何？得与如是诸上善人，俱会一处。)
 Summary: Of all born in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s Pure Land, they will immediately be in the Stage Of Non-Retrogression (不退转), with non-backsliding progress assured of Buddhahood. Among those there, many have already reached the position of Eka-jaṭī-prati-baddhas (一生补处), who are in the stage of one life to Buddhahood, ready to ‘replace’ preceding Buddhas, to guide more sentient beings to Buddhahood. All these beings are innumerable. As such, all who hear this teaching should sincerely aspire to reach there, to attain the supreme spiritual company of these many great good-knowing friends (善知识), to learn from their inspiring teachings and examples, to become like them.
 Sūtra: ‘If there are good men and good women, who hear this said about Amitā[bha] Buddha, firmly uphold mindfulness of his name, if for one day, if for two days, if for three days, if for four days, if for five days, if for six days, if for seven days, wholeheartedly without being scattered, when these persons approach life’s end, Amitā[bha] Buddha, with many in his noble assembly will appear before them. When these persons’ lives are ending, their minds will not be inverted, and they will immediately attain rebirth in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s Land Of Ultimate Bliss… As I see these benefits, thus do I speak these words. If there are sentient beings, who hear this said, they should vow, to be born in that land.‘ (若有善男子、善女人，闻说阿弥陀佛，执持名号，若一日、若二日、若三日、若四日、若五日、若六日、若七日，一心不乱。其人临命终时，阿弥陀佛，与诸圣众，现在其前。是人终时，心不颠倒，即得往生阿弥陀佛极乐国土。… 我见是利，故说此言。若有众生，闻是说者，应当发愿，生彼国土。)
 Summary: Of those who hear the preceding teachings in the Amitā[bha] Sūtra (as can be seen in the second of the ‘Related Teachings‘ below), who sincerely practise mindfulness of the name of Amitā[bha] Buddha (i.e. Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛), for [one to ten thoughts (according to the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》), or] one to seven days, nearing departure from this life, the Buddha and many from his enlightened assembly will manifest to receive and guide them, to ensure their minds will be upright, to instantly reach his Pure Land. As such, all who know these benefits should sincerely aspire to reach there, (as this will power sincere Practice [now], for such benefits [later]).
 Sūtra: ‘If there are people who have already vowed, are now vowing, or will be vowing, with the desire to be born in Amitā[bha] Buddha’s Land, all these people and others, will all attain non-retrogression for Anuttarā Samyak Saṃbodhi. In that land, they have already been born, or are now being born, or will be born. Therefore… all good men and good women, if they have Faith, should vow, to be born in that land.‘ (若有人，已发愿、今发愿、当发愿，欲生阿弥陀佛国者。是诸人等，皆得不退转于阿耨多罗三藐三菩提。于彼国土，若已生、若今生、若当生。是故… 诸善男子、善女人，若有信者，应当发愿，生彼国土。)
 Summary: Of those who sincerely aspired, are now aspiring and will be aspiring to reach his Pure Land, they will attain non-backsliding progress assured of Buddhahood. Respectively, they are those who are already born, now being born and will be born. As such, (with this Aspiration [Vow] working in the moment when it is utmost sincere), all who have Faith in Amitā[bha] Buddha should sincerely aspire to reach there, (as their profound Faith [深信] will power their sincere Aspiration [切愿] to have true Practice [实行], with these qualities being the Three Provisions [三资粮] for reaching Pure Land).
Commentary: Corresponding to the above, the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖澫益大师) taught the below in his ‘Essential Explanation Of The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā[bha] Buddha’《佛说阿弥陀经要解》: ‘For those who have already vowed, they have already been born, for those who now vow [to be born in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land], they are now being born, and for those who will vow, they will be born. This precisely reveals that the Vow given rise to, that relies upon Faith, is without falsehood, [as it will bear fruit accordingly]. (已愿已生，今愿今生，当愿当生，正显依信所发之愿无虚也。)
Without Faith, it is not able to give rise to the Vow (i.e. Aspiration), and without the Vow, with only Faith, one also cannot be born. Thus did the Buddha say that, ‘if they have Faith, [they] should vow.’ (非信不能发愿，非愿信亦不生。故云「若有信者，应当发愿」。)
Also, on Vow, as it is the contract [with irreversible agreement] of Faith, and the pivot [or hinge (i.e. centre of power)] of Practice, it is especially as an essential task to give rise to it. As when raising the Vow, thus are Faith and Practice within it, therefore with earnest diligence, did the Buddha thrice encourage [it to be given rise to in this sūtra].’ (又愿者，信之券，行之枢，尤为要务。举愿则信行在其中，所以殷勤三劝也。) (More on this can be seen in the third of the ‘Related Teachings‘ below.)
If not with Faith accepting,
and relying on his teachings to have Practice,
for every three lifetimes in continuous succession,
with rebirths accomplishing sorrow.
Verses On Triple Exhortations (Part 2)
Amitābha Sūtra’s 20 Meritorious Virtues’ Adornments Of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land
The Sūtra With Praises Of Inconceivable Meritorious Virtues And All Buddhas’ Mindful Protection
The Principle Of ‘Vow Now For Birth Now’
Verses On Third Lifetime’s Sorrow